More than 12 years after Ben Lunak lost part of his leg in combat in Iraq, he became a Colorado Springs police officer — only the fourth amputee to complete a police academy in the United States, officials say.

Lunak, 34, said he submitted 28 applications to police departments across the country before he was accepted into the Colorado Springs police academy.

“I feel like this is what I was put on this Earth to do,” he said Wednesday afternoon, just after he and 42 other police recruits became officers. “I was created and wired the way I am to serve my community, and that had to be in law enforcement.”

Lunak was called on stage during the graduation ceremony to be awarded the combat action ribbon he never received due to an administrative error. He said later that he was “100 percent surprised.”

He was a lance corporal in the Marines in February 2006 when he was aboard a Humvee that rolled over a roadside bomb. His lower leg ultimately was amputated.

“Physical rehab was easy — it was more of the mental part was the tough part,” Lunak said. “It took a long time to get here.”

He cited Matias Ferreira, a Marine veteran who lost both legs in combat in Afghanistan, as his inspiration. Ferreira became a Suffolk County, N.Y., police officer in 2017.

The 43 graduates — 29 men and 14 women — brought the Police Department’s number of sworn officers to 703, said police spokesman Lt. Howard Black.

The new officers made it through the 26-week academy, but they aren’t done yet — now they’ll spent 3½ months with patrol training officers.

“It’s been a long six months, but I’m finally there, and I’m just waiting to move on to the next phase,” said Alexis Falcon, 33. The most difficult part of the academy was the academics, including learning about Colorado law, he said.

“Being Hispanic myself, I think I can help out … the community that speaks Spanish, being fluent in it and understanding the culture,” Falcon said. “I think I’ll be able to serve them — and everybody else, as well.”

Ruselis Perry, 41, said that becoming a police officer “was the calling I never shook off.”

“The biggest desire of my heart is to change the atmosphere between police and civilians nationwide,” Perry said. “We’re blessed in Colorado Springs with a very good relationship with our civilians. I want to be keep that. That’s my goal: to be a part of that, to be in partnership with that and make it grow nationwide.”

The graduates range in age from 23 to 43, and 17 have served in the military, Chief Peter Carey said during the ceremony. They come from a wide variety of backgrounds and former careers, Carey said.

After years of being understaffed, the Police Department’s academy has been starting a new class of 48 recruits every eight months in an effort to add more than 120 officers by 2022.

Ellie is a crime and breaking news reporter. She's a proud Midwesterner, stationery hoarder and Earl Grey tea enthusiast. After interning at The Gazette in 2015, she joined the newspaper's staff in 2016.

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